View Mobile Site


Top-ranked Buford, No. 3 Washington County set to clash in Dome

Wolves need 11 points to set state's new season-single scoring record

POSTED: December 12, 2013 5:11 p.m.
Nat Gurley | The Times/

Buford's Thomas Wilson runs the ball in last week's Class AAA semifinal game against Callaway on Tom Riden Stadium in Buford. Wilson and the top-ranked Wolves face third-ranked Washington County in the state championship game Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the Georgia Dome.

View Larger
View More »

BUFORD — Jess Simpson doesn’t care if his team breaks the state’s all-time single-season scoring record of 682 points.

He really has just one number on his mind heading into Friday night's Class AAA state championship game.


“I could care a less if we get it or don’t get it,” said Simpson, Buford’s head coach. “I’m just hoping for a one-point win.”

Top-ranked Buford (14-0) enters Friday's title game, slated for a 5:30 p.m. kickoff at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, against No. 3 Washington County (13-0) needing just 11 points to break the state’s all-time scoring mark, set by Dublin High in 2006.

The Wolves have scored 672 points through their first 14 games this season, while allowing just 92 total points to opponents. And while it’s the offensive scoring record that could be broken Friday night, the Wolves are hanging their hats on their defensive effort this season.

“I feel like we definitely have parts of being one of the best defenses to come through Buford, if not the best,” said linebacker Korie Rogers, a Clemson commit. “We have a lot of speed and we’ve got power on the D-line and at the linebacker position.”

The Wolves are certainly on pace to be known as one of the greatest defensive units, and teams, in school history. They’re already often compared to Buford’s 2007 Class AA championship team, which finished with a 15-0 record and allowed just 66 points all season.

This year’s set of Wolves hasn’t allowed more than 14 points in a game (they gave up 14 to Gainesville, North Hall and Callaway), and they can put a bow on their legacy with a dominating performance against high-powered Washington County tonight in the championship game.

“That’s something we talk about — being the best defense to come through here,” senior safety Tre’ Neal said.

“We don’t have the big names, but statistically we want to be the best. That 2007 team, ’09 team, we want to be the best of all of them.”

The Golden Hawks enter the title game averaging 49.9 points per game, and have outscored their opponents 649-134 this season.

Quarterback A.J. Gray leads the explosive offense. The junior has passed for 1,682 yards, rushed for 1,308 yards and accounted for 32 touchdowns. Senior Melvin Hill (1,771 yards, 33 touchdowns) and Danyale Wicker (1,569 yards, 19 TDs) also play major roles in the rushing attack.

“I think it is the best-coached unit I have seen this year,” Simpson said. “They have three great running backs, they have three or four talented receivers and then the quarterback is truly the quarterback of the team.

“He does it all for them; he starts at free safety, he runs the ball on offense, he throws it. You can tell he does a great job with the read zone on offense. He is a very talented young man.”

While Washington County has playmakers on offense, so do the Wolves.

Joshua Thomas (946 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns), Thomas Wilson (812 yards, 16 touchdowns), Evyn Cooper (538 yards, 5 TDs) and Xavier Gannt (456 yards, 7 TDs) lead a Buford attack that is averaging a stout 272 rushing yards per game this season.

In the passing attack, quarterbacks Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery VanGorder have each thrown nine touchdowns this year and have combined for 1,520 yards passing.

The key to the offensive success this season has been the ability to play fast, when needed.

“As coaches and players, everybody in this building, we believe that knowledge equals speed,” Simpson said. “The more we know, the faster we are going to play. And the faster we play, the better we are going to play.”

Buford is 8-3 in state championship games since 2000, and 5-1 in title games with Simpson as the head coach. The Wolves’ last loss in a championship game was in 2011, when they fell to Calhoun, 27-24, in overtime.

It’s a loss that still motivates the players to this day.

“We definitely didn’t like that feeling,” Rogers said. “So we try our hardest to not let that happen again.”

Added Neal: “Sophomore year was hard, especially watching it slip away. We worked so hard to come back, just to get back into the game, and then that first play of overtime, the ball just slipped out and we lost it.”

Preparing for the championship game has brought challenges of its own for Buford.

Much like last year when they faced St. Pius X, the Wolves are facing a team in the championship game they haven’t seen, an unfamiliar feeling after facing Calhoun in four straight title games from 2008-11.

Despite having never faced Washington County in school history, the Wolves have attempted to stick to a normal routine schedule as best as possible, although facing a team like the Golden Hawks certainly has posed new challenges.

“It seems like every time we are playing in one of these games, you’re playing somebody that creates so many problems,” Simpson said, “from the game planning then trying to get the gameplan installed on a Monday and then re-teaching it on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

“It’s a whirlwind and there isn’t a lot of sleeping, just a lot of people trying really hard one last time.”

Much like Buford, Washington County is a storied program. The Golden Hawks have won three state championships in school history (1994, 1996, 1997) and last reached the state finals in 2004 when they fell to LaGrange.

The program has also placed six players into the NFL, most notably linebacker Takeo Spikes, a first-round pick in 1998.

“Obviously, they have a great tradition and they’re excited to be back in the state championship game,” Simpson said.

After breezing through the regular season and the opening two rounds of the playoffs, Buford has had to overcome tougher obstacles the past two weeks.

In the quarterfinals, the Wolves committed three turnovers in a 36-6 win over Carver-Columbus.

Last week, the Wolves faced their first deficit of the season when they trailed Callaway 14-7 at halftime in the state semifinals. A pair of second-half touchdowns and a season-high 221-yard rushing yards from Thomas propelled the Wolves to the come-from-behind 24-14 victory over the Cavaliers.

It’s that adversity the Wolves have faced thus far in the postseason that could play a factor in Friday's championship game, given Washington County hasn’t been challenged in a game since earning a 36-33 overtime win over Class AA title contender Lovett on Oct. 4.

Since that win over the Lions, the Golden Hawks have won eight straight games by an average of 41.3 points, which includes a 37-0 shutout over Ringgold in the semifinals last week.

“Every scenario helps you — playing in bad weather, playing behind, having a little bit of adversity, if you happen to turn it over two or three times like we did a few weeks ago — you need to have those growing moments and experiences,” Simpson said.

“You don’t want to get to the Dome and not have (had) those experiences happen to you. In the course of a season, you have to overcome it.”


Commenting not available.
Commenting is not available.




Powered by
Morris Technology
Please wait ...